What It’s Like To Be Mugged by a Junkie

By Paul Thomas Zenki

I guess it could have been worse …

I wish I’d bought the damn shoes. I had an extra fifty bucks on me because I couldn’t decide on some shoes before I had to get to work.

This was in Madrid back in the 1980s. I’d take the train out to Móstoles, a suburb on the outskirts where I taught English a few evenings a week. Now if you’re an American, you’re gonna need a visual reset here because the Madrid suburbs are not like most US suburbs. They’re very urban, heavy on the Franco-era fascist architecture from back when the state had to house floods of workers ditching the farms for city jobs back in the mid 20th century.

Two women walk in a large empty plaza in front of a blockish building
Not all of Móstoles looked like this, but to me it felt like it. (Photo by Nicolas Vigier)

Móstoles was the terminus of that line, so the train cars thinned down as you went. That particular afternoon it ends up just me and a skinny old white-haired fellow up front, who I suspected was drunk, sitting with his back to me as we hit the next-to-last station.

I’m by the window when the young guy steps into the car. Black denim jacket, straight dark hair falling in front of his eyes and over his ears. He glances at the old man, then as we get rolling again he strolls back and takes the seat across from me, along the aisle. At first, I thought maybe he was being sociable.

He asks for money.

I pretend not to speak Spanish, but money’s a pretty easy concept to get across. Maybe this guy’s just scrounging change. I fish a quarter from my front pocket and put it in his hand.

“I’m gonna need more than that,” he tells me in Castillian.

Still feigning my best trying-to-remember-high-school-Spanish, I explain I only have enough train fare to get me home.

“Let me see then,” he says. “Maybe you’re lying.” Either he’s figured out I know more Spanish than I’m letting on, or he doesn’t care.

I tell him to screw off.

From his jacket he extracts a surprisingly long kitchen knife. Rests it on top of one thigh. We look each other in the face.

I fish all the loose cash from my front pocket and put it in his free hand. He studies it a moment. “Come on, the rest of it.”

“All. No more. All money.”

His expression has not changed. Like someone listening to a lecture he’s already heard. “Look, if I don’t see a billfold, I’m gonna put this knife in you, and then I’ll just take it.”

He has one foot propped against the edge of the seat next to me, the pile of coins in one hand, and the knife in the other still resting on his thigh. The old man hasn’t changed his position or attitude. Outside, the Spanish high plains are rolling past in the low sunlight.

The young guy sticks the coins into a coat pocket then unbuttons the sleeve of the arm holding the knife and pushes up the jacket and the shirt beneath it to reveal his tattoos and needle tracks. “I’m going to get high tonight,” he says. “One way or another.”

I shake my head, then fetch my wallet from my back pocket, remove the bills, open it up for him so he can see there’s nothing left, and place the cash in his hand. On impulse I blurt out, “I still have to get home” and take a few singles off the top. I hold them up for a moment, like that creates some sort of agreement, then put them back in my wallet which I return to my pocket as though this is how things are done.

He takes his own wallet out and stuffs the bills into it. “I’m Christian,” he says out of the blue. Flips his billfold to show me a picture of Jesus and an address card. He gives me his address — block 12, third floor, apartment A, behind the multicinema. “Come up at ten,” he tells me. “I’ll have gotten my stuff by then and sold some. I’ll give your money back, plus interest. We’ll have some drinks, meet some girls.”

Because of all my delaying and pretending, we’re closing in on the terminal by now. As the car sidles up to the platform we both stand. He puts an arm around my shoulder. We’re old buddies, you see, me and him. The other arm is inside his jacket and holding the point of the knife at my ribs. The two policemen who exit another car onto the platform with us take no notice, nor do the other passengers.

We walk through the street like that until the cops are no longer in sight. Then he releases me.

“I live there,” he says, pointing to a building several blocks away. He holds his hand out toward me, nods at a scar on it. “A bullet,” he says. “I don’t trust anybody.”

“Me neither,” I say. “And I’m not Christian.”

He smiles. “We’re friends?”


And with that, he slouches off down a sidestreet and I make my way to the academy.

After my class I walk back to the train station by the light of the streetlamps and the buildings, in my old worn-out shoes which will have to suffice a while longer now. Standing on the platform I look over at the place my new acquaintance had pointed to. Third floor, apartment A.

Well, Calle Leñeros is a long way back.

Maybe some other night.

Header image: U.S. National Archives

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Paul Thomas Zenki is an essayist, ghostwriter, copywriter, marketer, songwriter, and consultant living in Athens, GA.